Friday, May 6, 2011

How Did Mother's Day Get Started?

Like many holidays, we take them as they come but don't always think about their origins.  I was curious on this one so I did a little digging.  There's a very handy site called that provides this kind of information.  Of course, honouring mother's goes back to Greek times, but if we are speaking specifically about our modern version, here's what they had to say:
In the United States, Mother's Day started nearly 150 years ago, when Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian homemaker, organized a day to raise awareness of poor health conditions in her community, a cause she believed would be best advocated by mothers. She called it "Mother's Work Day."

Fifteen years later, Julia Ward Howe, a Boston poet, pacifist, suffragist, and author of the lyrics to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," organized a day encouraging mothers to rally for peace, since she believed they bore the loss of human life more harshly than anyone else.

In 1905 when Anna Jarvis died, her daughter, also named Anna, began a campaign to memorialize the life work of her mother. Legend has it that young Anna remembered a Sunday school lesson that her mother gave in which she said, "I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mother's day. There are many days for men, but none for mothers."

Anna began to lobby prominent businessmen like John Wannamaker, and politicians including Presidents Taft and Roosevelt to support her campaign to create a special day to honor mothers. At one of the first services organized to celebrate Anna's mother in 1908, at her church in West Virginia, Anna handed out her mother's favorite flower, the white carnation. Five years later, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling for officials of the federal government to wear white carnations on Mother's Day. In 1914 Anna's hard work paid off when Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother's Day as a national holiday.

At first, people observed Mother's Day by attending church, writing letters to their mothers, and eventually, by sending cards, presents, and flowers. With the increasing gift-giving activity associated with Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis became enraged. She believed that the day's sentiment was being sacrificed at the expense of greed and profit. In 1923 she filed a lawsuit to stop a Mother's Day festival, and was even arrested for disturbing the peace at a convention selling carnations for a war mother's group. Before her death in 1948, Jarvis is said to have confessed that she regretted ever starting the mother's day tradition.

Despite Jarvis's misgivings, Mother's Day has flourished in the United States. In fact, the second Sunday of May has become the most popular day of the year to dine out, and telephone lines record their highest traffic, as sons and daughters everywhere take advantage of this day to honor and to express appreciation of their mothers.

It is amazing that so many holidays with more meaningful origins have evolved into Hallmark occasions.  It's like it's not a holiday unless we commercialize it in some way!  In our house, we don't usually exchange much in terms of gifts, but we most definitely do cards.  This year, like last, we'll go with my husband's family to their golf course for brunch.  The kids have a blast because they usually do some type of entertainment for them.  Last year it was a magician.  Not sure what this year will bring.

I think my most special Mother's Day was my first.  I felt awed by the mere fact that I was on the other side of the holiday for once.  Since I had my son at age 36, it was a long time coming!  Since then, I take them as they come.  I can't say it feels different than any other day.  In my house, every day is Mother's Day (unless the kids are really being a pain in the ass... then not so much).  But no, really, I appreciate motherhood so much and never take it for granted.  You know that feeling when there's something really, really good in your life that you're afraid if you blink it may disappear?  Kind of like when you were younger and had just starting dating a guy you were really into and you were afraid to use the term "boyfriend" because you knew as soon as you did, he might break up with you.  Well, that's how I feel every day when I look at my kids.  I'm so crazy about them and I feel incredibly blessed that I have the honour of being their mom.  To me, that's all the gift I need.

Happy Mother's Day to all.  Hope it's a wonderful day.

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